Dry Tops and Paddle Jacket Buyer's Guide


Dry tops are a type of kayaking jacket that is much like the top half of a dry suit, complete with latex rubber gaskets at the neck and wrist. If a kayaker stays in their kayak and rolls up after a capsize, a drytop can keep them almost as dry as a dry suit (If there is water in the kayak, the kayaker may get a little water dripping into the dry top while inverted). However, a dry top is only dry when you are sealed into a closed cockpit kayak with a spray skirt. If you swim, water will enter from the bottom of the jacket. None-the-less, dry tops are a popular piece of gear for kayakers to wear over a farmer john wet suit bib (in which case the wet suit will be your insulation if you swim). The driest and most breathable dry top is the Kokatat GoreTex Pro OM Dry Top, but for budget minded we also carry the Kokatat Hydrus Stoke Drytop which is made out of waterproof/breathable Hydrus 3-layer fabric.

In contrast to dry tops, most paddle jackets do not have latex gaskets. This is both good and bad. If you roll, it is better to have neck and wrist seals to keep water out. But if you are not likely to roll (e.g. most canoers, SOT kayakers, rec. kayakers, etc.), then you can wear a paddling jacket without a neck seal and be more comfortable. If you are canoeing or rafting, you don't need wrist gaskets either, but for kayaking (even recreational kayaking) wrist gaskets are a must. Without wrist gaskets water shoots up a kayaker's sleeves and stays there (canoers etc. have their arms pointed down hill so it's not a problem, but a kayakers lower arm is about horizontal while taking forward strokes so water goes up the sleeve unless the jacket has wrist gaskets). The best long sleeve paddle jackets for kayaking have wrist gaskets combined with a soft neck or adjustable neck that you can open. When buying a long sleeve jacket for kayaking, the only style to consider is one with latex wrist gaskets.

Short sleeve paddle jackets don't need gaskets on the sleeves (even for kayaking) because your upper arm mostly faces down even when kayaking. Short sleeve paddle jackets are a great piece of gear for summer paddling. Wear it over a wet suit bib or by itself when paddling in warm water. It will keep most of the spray off and give you some protection against the wind. With no gaskets, short sleeve paddle jackets are inexpensive, low maintenance, and pack small when not needed.

We stock a wide variety of dry tops and paddle jackets by Kokatat to please all sorts of paddlers.